What are some meaningful quotes that prove the following thesis statement: "In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee shows that sometimes ignorance and racism become more powerful that reason...

What are some meaningful quotes that prove the following thesis statement: "In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee shows that sometimes ignorance and racism become more powerful that reason and honor"?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The power of ignorance and racism is most dramatically illustrated in Tom Robinson's trial. Before the trial even starts, Atticus is well aware that Tom is already condemned, as he tells Scout the very first time she questions him about it.

"Atticus, are we going to win it?”

 “No, honey.”

 “Then why—”

 “Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said. (chapter 9)

Atticus knows that the majority of the town has already prejudged Tom simply on the basis of his colour. Racial prejudice in a town like Maycomb is a thing of long standing, as Atticus’s reference to being 'licked a hundred years before we started' highlights. It is so deeply ingrained in the town that it automatically predetermines the outcome of a case like Tom’s. However, as Atticus says, just because prejudice exists doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try to fight it; in fact, it is vitally important to do so. Atticus’s words here underline the unpleasant fact that racism often does prevail, but at the same time he emphasizes the importance of trying to fight it.

The trial forcibly brings home the power that prejudice can exert even in a court of law, the one place where everyone, regardless of colour, creed, or background should get a fair chance. However, as so vividly demonstrated at Tom’s trial, in practice things don’t always work out this way. Tom is convicted even when the evidence seems to point clear to him being innocent. The children, particularly Jem, are confused and upset at such injustice. Atticus endeavours to explain that prejudice can sometimes blind people so that they can’t think or act rationally. Racism is a good example of this.

There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads—they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.(chapter 23)

Atticus here bluntly makes the point that, when base emotions like racial hatred take over, reason counts for nothing; people ‘lose their heads’.  This seems to be peculiarly a herd instinct; people tend to follow the crowd. This is shown earlier when a mob arrive at the jail intent on lynching Tom, and it is shown to happen even in a court which supposedly is a place of reason, of balanced judgement. But even here a basic, and base, mass emotion is seen to hold sway.

There is one particularly striking and symbolic quote which illustrates the power of ignorance and racism. When Scout sees Atticus return to court to hear the jury’s verdict, she is reminded of the earlier incident in which he walked into a deserted street to kill a rabid dog with just one shot:

…it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty (chapter 21)

In the earlier scene, Atticus was successful in getting rid of a mad dog, but even he cannot defeat the greater evil of racism; this time around his gun is empty. In the implied comparison to a mad dog, racism is effectively figured here both as a raving animal and as a deadly infectious disease. This is the disease that places like Maycomb suffer from, and even Atticus cannot eliminate it. However, as he himself said earlier, he and other like-minded individuals can always try to do what they can to combat it. 

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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